I am still not very familiar with the extensive musical work of Sam Beam a.k.a. Iron & Wine but I decided to give it a go and watch him live at the Queen's Hall, one of my favourite venues in Edinburgh.
I was expecting intimate tones and smooth tunes, with great vocals but tinged with sadness. I was surprised by some upbeat musical arrangements and how the audience reacted to them. Not to say I was disappointed! The set up was certainly bigger than I expected, with Sam's 7 people strong entourage sporting several electric guitars, synths, slide guitar, violin, percussion, drums, bass+double bass, vibraphone and accordion. Sam itself switched guitars several times, making sure the sound remained rich and diverse between songs. And it worked well...sort of.
My main gripe was in the way this vast assortment of sounds was managed live. The sound table work was quite questionable, with the slide guitar volume being excessive, so loud that it reverbated on the Hall's ceiling, near the gallery where I sat. Every once in a while you would wince for every more-than-slight strum of a slide guitar string...frankly it was annoying and kept distracting me from the music.
The way the double-bass was set up was quite bizarre. It was an electric double-bass, of which I am not a big fan but that gave adequately deep tones when the player was strumming. It was a different thing altogether when he used the bow. For a while I could not pin the source of an annoying scratching sound that I could hear in the background during a couple of songs...then I realized it was the double-bass! The strings were vibrating with the action of the bow but the sound had absolutely no bass! Instead it just added higher frequency noise that made it sound like background interference...bizarre and irritating.
In the end, I still enjoyed the concert. Sam's music is exquisite and the song lyrics are deep and meaningful. He played many songs from what is my favourite album so far (Our Endless Numbered Days). I am very fond of the vocal work and I was only sorry that he didn't play Such Great Heights or Fever Dream. It was just a shame I didn't enjoy it more because of a couple of set up blunders that shouldn't have made past the sound check.